Merkel, pope clear up differences in phone call

Other News Materials 8 February 2009 17:11 (UTC +04:00)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Benedict XVI chatted on the phone Sunday to set aside their differences over the Holocaust outburst by an arch-conservative bishop, dpa reported.

"It was a good and constructive talk, carried by the deep and constant reminder that the Shoah holds for humanity," said a joint statement released by the Vatican and German government spokesmen.

The pope and the chancellor explained their views "with the greatest of mutual respect," the statement said.

The telephone conversation came at the request of the chancellor, who earlier this week aroused the Vatican's ire by saying the Catholic Church had not spoken clearly enough in rejecting Holocaust denial.

She was reacting to remarks made by Bishop Richard Williamson, one of four traditionalist bishops with the conservative St Pius X Society whose 1988 excommunication was lifted by the pontiff.

The move by Benedict XVI, former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was condemned by Jewish groups and led to an outcry in his native Germany, where Merkel joined in the criticism.

The chancellor also came under fire from conservative elements in her Christian Democrat and Christian Social Union alliance, who accused here of meddling in Church affairs.

Benedict's decision to pardon the four bishops was seen a sign that the renegade group was willing to reconcile with Rome. But amid mounting pressure, the Vatican eventually issued a statement saying Williamson would have to recant his Holocaust-denial claims before being allowed to occupy any office within the church.

Merkel welcomed the Vatican's statement as "an important and good signal."

British-born Williamson, who lives in Argentina, denied there were gas chambers at the Nazis' death camp in Auschwitz and alleging the scale of deaths of Jews under the Nazis was no more than "200,000 to 300,000."